S.C. governor, lawmakers from both parties back removal of Confederate flag from state grounds
CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina's governor declared Monday that the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds as she acknowledged that its use as a symbol of hatred by the man accused of killing nine black church members has made it too divisive to display in such a public space.
Gov. Nikki Haley's about-face occurs just days after authorities charged Dylann Storm Roof, 21, with murder. The white man appeared in photos waving Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence. Survivors told police he hurled racial insults during the attack.
“The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening,” Haley said, flanked by Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites who joined her call.
“My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in Heaven,” Haley said.
The massacre inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has suddenly made removing the flag — long thought politically impossible in South Carolina — the go-to position, even for conservative Republican politicians.
Haley was flanked by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, now running for president, as well as South Carolina's junior Republican senator, Tim Scott, and Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn. Within moments, her call was echoed by the Republican Party chairman and the top GOP lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Haley urged the state's GOP-led House and Senate to debate the issue no later than this summer. If not, she said she will call a special session and force them to resolve it. “I will use that authority for the purpose of the legislature removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds,” she said.
South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford says he's confident after talking to members of both parties that the Confederate flag will be taken down within the next two months.
“A lot of people understand this is a moment we have to respond to,” said Rep. Rick Quinn, a Republican and former House majority leader who said he will vote to take it down.
Making any changes to the banner requires a two-thirds supermajority in both houses under the terms of a 15-year-old deal that moved it from atop the Statehouse to a position next to a monument to Confederate soldiers out front.
The push for change resonated outside the state.
In Mississippi, House Speaker Philip Gunn said that the Confederate battle emblem is offensive and needs to be removed from the state flag. He is the first top-tier Republican to call for a change in the flag, which has had the symbol in the upper left corner since Reconstruction.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, said in a statement.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant repeated his long-held position that the state should keep the flag as is.
In Tennessee, Craig Fitzhugh, the state House Democratic leader, said a a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early Ku Klux Klan leader, must be removed from its place outside the senate chamber in the Capitol. He proposed replacing it with a statue of Lois DeBerry, a black woman who became the first female speaker pro tempore of the Tennessee House.
The world's biggest retailer, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, sais it is removing any items from its store shelves and website that feature the Confederate flag.